Court bans wildcat strike on railways

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A Dutch court ruling on 8 December 1998 ended an unofficial "wildcat" strike held by a group of railway employees in the north-east of the Netherlands. The employees had been demanding a clear statement on their long-term pay.

A court ruling on 8 December 1998 ended an unofficial "wildcat" strike (wilde staking) declared by a group of railway employees in the north-east of the Netherlands. Some 70 engine drivers and conductors had stopped work on 7 and 8 December. The employees were demanding a guarantee from Dutch Railways (Nederlandse Spoorwegen, NS), that their pay would remain unaffected by their transfer in 1999 to the Noordned company, which will take over the operation of rail and regional transport in the northern regions of the Netherlands. The judge banned the strike under sanction of a daily fine of between NLG 5,000 and NLG 100,000.

The striking employees had argued that engine drivers and conductors had been promised an indication of long-term pay trends at Noordned. This commitment has not been met, whereas other employees have been given such an indication, according to the strikers. NS central management later revoked the pledge made by the regional manager responsible to provide engine drivers and conductors with clear information on pay trends. NS argued that the provision of such information at the current time would hamper the forthcoming round of negotiations on collective agreements. NS also denies the existence of any commitments to other staff groups regarding pay trends, and claims that it merely gave senior staff an indication of their future pay bracket at Noordned.

The trade unions did not endorse the strike, and were not invited to the strike meeting. A representative of the largest union, FNV-Bondgenoten, claimed that the strike was unnecessary in view of the forthcoming collective agreement negotiations in May 1999. "If NS employees disagree with the outcome of those negotiations, they can always decide to take action at that point," commented one official.

Following lengthy negotiations, an agreement had been finally reached on the transition of staff to Noordned in April 1998. Other negotiations on the further privatisation of the transport sector are also showing slow progress (NL9712150F).

In November 1998, the Minister of Transport, Public Works and Water Management, Tineke Netelenbos, assured unions that she would make every effort to prevent any job losses resulting from public tendering in the transport sector. Her predecessor, Annemarie Jorritsma, had however refused to include any such guarantees in the new legislature. Minister Netelenbos' pledge has been the source of critical comments by the liberal VVD party in the Lower House of the Dutch parliament.

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